Friday, August 30, 2013

People You Should Know . . . Jake Thomas

JAKE THOMAS is a writer, performer and producer with a keen interest in the strange, speculative and surreal. Currently an editor on top titles at MARVEL Comics, Jake is invested in highly stylized story telling. Favorite writing and performing credits include: the weekly absurdist sketch show Professor Top's Old-Timey Radio Hour(head writer and producer), Sean Frasier's Applewood Review (writer and performer) Junta Juleil's Theatrics (performer) Ray Sawhill and Polly Frost's Sex Scenes and The Fold (performer), Fuddy Meers and Dark of the Moon with Thirsty Turtle (performer), The Ateh's Long Distance (performer) and Mo Beasley's UrbanErotika series, where his piece "Consume" was selected for their "Best Of" show and was cited by The Huffington Post for being "particularly smart and funny." With his former theater companies Centaurface and The 7th Sign he was involved in a number of compelling pieces, including directing a production of Julius Caesar and producing and starring in Kurt Vonnegut's Happy Birthday, Wanda June, at which Jake also led a talkback with Mr. Vonnegut. Some of his writing, reviews and his horror commentary podcast "Headcheese," which he co-hosts with Nicole Baer, can be found at .

How did you get involved with theatre? When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I've always been a writer and performer. When I was but a wee young'n I would dress up in all kinds of different outfits, walk into the living room and ask my parents in a cornucopia of horrific accents, "Have you seen Jake Thomas?" "No, we sure haven't," my parents would reply, and then I'd say, "Well, when you see him, tell him I'm looking for him," and mosey back into my room, change outfits and accents and repeat the whole process again. Even back then I was trying to find myself by pretending to be someone else.

I was also always writing something. Comics about an odd couple of anthropomorphic allies, Adventure Bird and Jungle Cat. Church plays about the hero Bible Boy and his sidekick Concordance Kid. Madcap movie parodies spoofing my teachers. I went theater crazy in high school and acted in everything I could. The immediacy of performing in front of people was like nothing I'd ever experienced. And watching svomeone perform something I'd's still a surreal, sublime experience.

Tell me about .What compelled you to write the play? How do you feel rehearsals are going? What do you love most about the show?

The show itself is a horror anthology about all the odd, obscene, unconscious fears and desires that plague our dreams. I'm a huge horror nut, but as much as I enjoy a good splatter-fest my favorite horror stories are the ones that really get under your skin, that speak to those parts of our world and ourselves that truly frighten us. At a reading of the piece one of my good friends told my wife "This is like seeing directly into Jake's head," which delighted me, as that meant I'd done my job well, but also terrified the hell out of me. In many ways this is an extremely personal show. These are the things that scare me, and what's more intimate than that?

I've got to give a lot of credit for the creation of the show to my good friend and producer of the show, Eric Schmalenberger. Ages ago he commissioned me to write a script for a video art piece that never got made, but I loved the idea so much that it continuously gnawed at my brain. Eventually I came to him with a loose collection of thoughts and ideas and said, in a voice quaking with trepidation and insecurity, "I think this is a play?" From that moment on Eric has been my champion and cheerleader, egging me on to create this bizarre little bit of insanity. I would call him and say "Oh, I'm thinking of making this piece all puppets" or "can we hang somebody on stage?" and his answer was always "Write what you want, we'll figure it out!" How can you not rise up to that challenge?

I wrote this play because it's the kind of writing and performance I adore, and I felt like I wasn't seeing it, so I created it. Almost all of the performers in the play I'd seen in other things and thought, "Wow, they're great, but why aren't they doing something more like THIS?" So I wrote this play to bend all of these incredibly talented, brilliant, beautiful performers to my will. And now I go to rehearsals and watch my terrible, selfish, solipsistic desires executed better than I even could ever have imagined by our innovative and ingenious director Rachel Klein. Which is all to say, I think rehearsals are going GREAT! *Cackle cackle cackle*

What kind of writing inspires you?

I love simple, effective writing that both entertains and engages. My greatest love is American Romanticism, with Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Irving, that whole crowd. Of course, I also love horror stories, so I'd be remiss to not mention Lovecraft and his heir apparent, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Matheson, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, Stephen King and scores of others that I'm apparently not going to mention. REMISS!

I should also say that I greatly admire any writing that takes full advantage of the medium it's in. One of my all-time favorite novels is Mark Z. Danielewski's THE HOUSE OF LEAVES, largely because it is so very much a book and the very art of reading is part of the experience. It could never be a movie or a play or even an audio recording. If you want to understand that sucker, you've got to READ it. Movies done by crazed cinematic minds like Spike Jonze or Terry Gilliam, those could be nothing other than movies, and I LOVE that.

My theatrical heroes are a NYC-based group called The T.E.A.M. because I think they're one of the few companies I've ever seen that truly understand the scope and possibility of theater. You could never make a movie out of one of their shows and I imagine one of their scripts simply read would come across like a hodgepodge of gobbledygook, but seeing their pieces performed has been one of the most rewarding artistic experiences I've ever had. They are absolutely astounding, emotionally complex and engaging, and theatrical in ways few could dream of achieving. True story: the first time I saw their show PARTICULARLY IN THE HEARTLAND I was so jealous of the brilliance and beauty of this thing they'd created I got physically ill. Then I went back and saw it three more times.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your work a writer thus far?

My idol, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Between high school and college I wrote over a dozen papers on him. Then in my senior year at NYU a theater company I started with some friends did his play, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE. I reached out to Mr. Vonnegut to see if he would be interested in doing a talkback, and he not only came to the show and did the talkback, he was extremely kind and gracious to our young company and met with us a few times afterwards, just to talk. His writing so perfectly illustrated his humanist worldview but also never felt preachy, never let the tail of ideology wag the dog of story, and was always fun, emotionally honest and engaging. His lectures and essays also contain some of the best writing advice around. Rare is the hour I spend writing where I don't think of him.

What else are you working on right now?

There are many pots on the stove. I have a series of interconnected horror shorts I wrote and am shopping around for the web or TV called "Monster Shorts." I'm also working on this wild, conceptual, interactive online storytelling bit of madness called "Lost Harbor" with some friends of mine. I'm putting together a collection of short stories I've written, as well as a fun, silly, annotated script of the Dead Dream Machine. I've also got some screenplays in the works and some ideas for future theater pieces that I'm almost uncomfortably excited about.
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